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Hot Grilling Techniques
Excerpt from Hot Barbecue, by Hugh Carpenter & Teri Sandison
The essential equipment for grilling is not the grill, it's the griller. The best grill chefs hover over the fire, baby the food, and share their thoughts about the theory, practice, and mysteries of grilling to all who approach their cooking sanctum.
• Always build a larger fire than you think necessary so that the coals do not burn out before the food finishes cooking. The area of the spread-out coals should be 2 to 4 inches beyond the food.
• When cooking over briquettes, lump hardwood, or wood, plan ahead. Briquettes will be ash covered in about 20 minutes. Lump hardwood, which burns much hotter, will take about 30 to 40 minutes to reach the gray-ash stage. If you add the food before this stage, the intense heat will burn the food, and if the briquettes are still partly black, the heat will be uneven.
• Once the fire is lighted, spread the coals into an even layer. When using a kettle grill, instead of positioning the coals with long tongs, hold the grill by the handle and give it a little shake to distribute the coals.
• Once the coals are covered with ash and are evenly distributed, position the cooking rack over the coals. Let the rack become very hot. If the cooking rack is not clean, brush it vigorously to remove all food and carbon residue from the previous grilling session. Alternatively, as soon as you remove the food from the rack, scrub the rack with a wire brush.
• To prevent food from sticking, brush the cooking rack with flavorless cooking oil. Never use nonstick cooking spray.
• It is better to err with heat that is too low rather than too high. If cooking over briquettes, lump hardwood charcoal, or wood, control the heat by opening and closing the vents. If the heat is too high, cover the grill and partially close the vents. This reduces the amount of oxygen feeding the fire, and the intensity of the heat will be reduced quickly.
• To add an intense flavor to grilled meat and seafood, add hardwood chips, oak bark, or barrel staves. This is an especially useful technique for gas grills, because gas flames and vaporizing slats or lava rocks do not create the intense flavor that briquettes, lump hardwood charcoal, and wood do. Wood chips are available at supermarkets and hardware stores. Soak approximately 1 cup of chips in cold water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain. Scatter the chips over the charcoal just before adding the food. On gas grills, remove the cooking rack. Turn the gas jets on. Place the chips on a layer of aluminum foil and position this on the metal vaporizing slats or on the lava rocks at one corner of the fuel bed. Reposition the cooking rack. Wait until the wood begins to smoke, place the food on the rack, and cover with the lid. (Caution: if there is any danger of the foil holding the chips extinguishing the gas flames, then place it on the cooking rack instead.) Other flavor options include adding rosemary sprigs, whole walnuts crushed with a hammer and soaked in cold water, unpeeled garlic cloves, cinnamon sticks and whole nutmegs, and citrus peels.
• Most foods should be grilled over medium heat. Place your open hand, palm side down, 4 inches above the heat, and count "1001, 1002, 1003." The heat is medium if it's hot enough to make you pull your hand away at "1003". While most gas barbecues come with a built-in thermometer, we find that the hand technique is a more accurate way to judge temperature.
• Food should be at room temperature so that it cooks more quickly and evenly.
• Don't overcrowd the grill so that the food touches. It's important that the heat rise around the sides of the food.
• If flare-ups occur due to fat dripping from the meat and/or because of oil in the marinade, spray the fire with a water spritzer.
• Turn food frequently. It's better to turn food too often than to wait too long and discover that it has burned on the underside.
• Grill most foods with the grill covered. The exception are boneless chicken breasts, shrimp, very thin steaks, vegetables, and skewered foods. These foods must be rotated often and cook so quickly that they need constant attention.
THE DIRECT METHOD: With foods of varying thickness, such as chicken pieces, place the thicker pieces over the hottest part of the fire, or begin cooking them a few minutes earlier, or once they are cooked, transfer the pieces to the cooler edges of the cooking rack.
THE INDIRECT METHOD: Grill large pieces of meat such as whole game hens, chickens, and turkeys by the indirect method. Light the coals and, when they are ash covered, push the coals to the sides of the fuel bed. Place a small disposable aluminum pan in the center of the fuel bed, add the cooking rack, brush the cooking rack with oil, then position the meat over the drip pan. Approximately every 30 minutes, add about 14 new briquettes or lumps of hardwood charcoal so that a constant, even heat is maintained. Many barbecue chefs like to light these coals in a small disposable aluminum tray, then transfer lit coals to the grill. For gas grills whose burners can be individually controlled, keep the outside burners on low and the middle burner off.
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